Glowing the color peachblow, I’ve just returned from subsidizing Sonoma’s Wine Country and have this to say of their grapes: “Fussy, yet serene, bossy yet submissive, a hint of herbaceous seepweed, a scent of doleful dégringolade”. At least that’s the kind of verbal dexterity I wished I had displayed during tastings at Lynmar, Martinelli, Siduri, and Kosta Browne wineries (don’t try to find the last one – it has no address and may not even exist).
Instead I mainly stuck to: “That’s a great chardonnay or – wow! – that’s a really good pinot noir (if you are looking for cabernet go crash your car in Napa). I knew that Sonoma was a fun palace for wine but what caught me unawares was the high level of food to be found.
After my girlfriend Betsy and I deplaned at Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, we depacked at Kenwood Inn and Spa for a four night stay (think Twin Peaks meets Fawlty Towers) and headed straight away for delunch at “the girl & the fig” in Sonoma – a perfect bistro beginning to the trip (don’t miss the salt cod croquettes with white bean purée, caramelized onions, meyer lemon-herb salad). Stuffed roasted quail at Café LeHaye (also in Sonoma) would be a must have at another meal and you should be detained and questioned if you don’t order the charcuterie plate at Mosaic in Forestville.
Double-dipped Justice at Philippe's
If you are a criminal defense attorney as I am defending cases in downtown Los Angeles, you will eventually find your way to the tangled skein of ceiling fans, neon soft drink signs, and sawdust floors of a restaurant called “Philippe - The Original The Home of the French dip sandwich Since 1918" in nearby Chinatown. This restaurant and the sandwiches contained within played a central role in defending my first felony trial which took place in 1987.
In that case, my client was twenty years old and stood no more than 5' 4" weighing 110 lbs. It wouldn’t have hurt him to eat a sandwich himself. He had just been released from prison after serving time for burglary. He was told by his parole officer to obey all laws, don’t possess a gun, and stay away from gang members. He did very well in following those directions for the next 24 hours.
I went to the French Laundry restaurant located in the Napa region (specifically, Yountville, California) in 1996 and haven’t been able to get a reservation since – at least until a week ago. Of course, that’s what happens when a chef later becomes tops in the U.S. and his restaurant is voted tops in the world. But with one day’s notice, I was told my group of four were in. Pack your dinner jacket we were told. They should’ve added cash out your 401k and clean out your savings account with a scrub brush. The price to party was now $240 per person for a nine course tasting menu (two options: Chef’s and Vegetarian) not including wine – a decent bottle (not a case) of which will cost you $200 more.
We flew from LA to the Solage resort in Calistoga and after hydroplaning down Highway 29 during blinding rain we walked in drenched. However, the dulcet tones of our waitress, Shannon, began to right the ship and reconnected me to the magic that I had experienced a decade before when the restaurant was still off the radar.
“Two eggs – any style”. If you see that as an option on the menu and your breakfast companion is French culinary chemist superstar and founder of Molecular Gastronomy Dr. Hervé This (pronounced “Teess”) – I’ve got one word for you and it’s “Run!!!” – unless you aren’t doing much for the next three years. This This sees egg like a bull sees red.
Hervé This is the reason I flew to San Francisco from Los Angeles this past week — to sit at the feet of the master in this sold-out event. Other spectators ranged from Los Angeles Top Chefs Walter Manske (Bastide) and David Myers (Sona/Comme Ca) to Bravo Top Chef 2nd Season foam finalist with the meringue-peaked hair Marcel Vigneron.
Hervé was in town hawking his recently published English edition of "Kitchen Mysteries – Revealing the Science of Cooking" - and he was also there to change the way the world cooks.
He gave a six hour talk and demonstration at Le-Sanctuaire, a fifth floor Sutter street culinary Galapagos of exquisite high tech kitchen ware (think $10,800 Rotaval Vacuum Evaporator) and exotic spices (think Vadouvan – a French interpretation of Indian curry).
When you enter the door at the Beverly Hills Cheese Store - the greatest cheese store in the U.S. of A. (419 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, California 90210), the first friendly face and voice you see and hear on your left will always be that of Cheese Wiz Sebastian Robin Craig working behind the counter like a whirling dervish – unless he is jetting off to the cheese caves of Roquefort, France for a tasting; or Stockholm, Sweden to compose more jazz (go to iTunes for his latest CD “Volition”); or just kicking back and learning Russian.
This Hepcat of Hoch Ibrig – Sebastian is one stop shopping and possessor of knowledge about everything (food, life, arts). If you are cheese dumb going in (“Uh, sir, could I see something in a tasteless, rock-hard Brie, please?”), you are the freaking Count of Comté by the time you leave (“Yes, Sebastian, I do believe that if they had properly added some proprionic acid bacteria before the secondary fermentation this cheese could have been a saved mais tant pis!”)
It’s fortunate that the world’s largest atom-smasher shut down in Geneva, Switzerland this past week and had to be repaired after just ten days of operation. Los Angeles’s own human particle accelerator 2003 Bon Appétit Chef of the Year Alain Giraud was gearing up to teach class at the always stimulating Chefmakers Cooking Academy in Pacific Palisades (Chefmakers.com) last Thursday and there is no way these two powerful kinetic instruments could work at the same time if planet Earth hopes to remain on its axis.
(Chef Giraud has a great new restaurant called Anisette Brasserie in Santa Monica and Alain thought he would take a breather from his 7:30 am to midnight duties and teach a class to 26 drooling citizens. I’ve been there for breakfast and lunch and I can barely chew because I’m smiling so much after each bite.)
Maytag Blue Cheese. Newton, Iowa - the seat of Jasper County. Newton is home to the cowlick salt block salty, rolling thunder and lightening stinky blue cheese that is produced by Maytag Dairy Farms. Fred Maytag II - grandson of the Maytag founder - was president of the wash machine company when he decided in 1941 to start another company that made blue cheese. Now Newton is at least temporary home to every presidential candidate that wants to carry Iowa in the Presidential caucus on January 3rd.
Iowa was a Red state in 2004 and has been considered Republican since Eisenhower. Fred Maytag II was the Jasper County Delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1960. What many people don’t know is that Maytag Blue Cheese may make a Red state Blue and determine who is the next president of United States. And it just may be a Democrat - Let me explain how cheese and politics intersect.
I don't know about you but I've got five extremely angry über chefs glaring at me from their cookbook bookflaps on my kitchen shelf and it's making me nervous: England's Heston Blumenthal's "The Big Fat Duck Cookbook", Thomas Keller's "Under Pressure", Grant Achatz's "Alinea", and a couple of chefs from Spain – Ferran Adrià's "El Bulli Volumes 2003-2004", and Joan Roca's "Sous Vide". It sounded like a good idea at the time – assembling courtesy of Amazon.com the modern greats for a holiday feast using the latest sci-fi techniques of sous vide (cooking food in a vacuum packed pouch) – and then having at it.
What these chefs failed to take into account – and the cause of their ire – was that I now see I don't possess any of the tools required to cook any of their recipes. They want to know why they are in my kitchen. I don't have a Polyscience Minipack-torre Model MVS31 Vacuum Sealer ($2025.00), a 8306C Model Thermal Circulating Bath ($1799.00), or even a functional spatula. I do have, however, from a previously deranged buying spree – The Smoking Gun™ ($79.00), which runs on 4 AA batteries and helps infuse dishes with a smoky flavor. An excellent Christmas present for your foodie friends. But I'm crushed to learn from their website that the gun is now being touted as "Excellent for finishing products that are cooked Sous Vide". Back to the beginning. I won't be dining in.
by Nancy Ellison